Whether fact, fantasy or fiction, the elusive Holy Grail has always been the focus of many a dramatic tale on TV and film. Now History’s latest dramatic ten-episode effort, Knightfall, is at the forefront of this purported “cup of Christ” legendary saga.
Knightfall is profoundly opulent, textural in look and layered with assiduous realism despite the fantastical elements of the storyline.
The series follows the mysterious and wealthy Knights Templar, a secretive military order of the Middle Ages consigned to find and to protect Christianity’s most prized relic.
The story unfolds in the Holy Land in 1291 during the Siege of Acre, a century after the Battle of Hattin when the Christians lost Jerusalem to Saladin’s warriors.
The cast is led by Tom Cullen, Julian Ovenden and Jim Carter of Downton Abbey fame, along with Ed Stoppard who is also cast in Netflix’s The Crown and Olivia Ross who was last seen last in War and Peace.
Many scholars question the existence of the Holy Grail, and if it ever was. Others truly believe that the Knights Templar went to the Holy Land and spirited away the Holy Grail from Temple Mount during the Crusades.
No one has proof of any exploits. Yet the perennial subject is still ripe for the talented imaginative efforts of producers Don Handfield and Richard Rayner, who have borrowed the energetic zeal of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise and the gravitas of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
In doing so with the right talent in front of and behind the camera, they have created a historically dense and cinematic dramatization of a world that might have been, all dressed in superior wardrobe with exceptional detailing and authenticity.
This can be directly attributed to the assiduous eye of costume designer Diana Cilliers. Cilliers was most recently nominated for a 2016 Emmy for Outstanding Costumes for a Period/Fantasy Series for Roots, and has many powerful films and TV series under her belt.
She also gets high praise from Knightfall’s main star Tom Cullen. We spoke to him recently and he gave a lengthy and detailed shout out to her work, revealing just how important the quality of wardrobe is for an actor trying to portray a historical figure.
We asked him what it was like working with her, and what his favorite things on the show were to wear…
Tom Cullen: “Unfortunately, I only ever had one costume, really, which is either chainmail or without chainmail, but most of the time, it’s chainmail. She made it so that it was completely authentic, even in terms of the undergarments underneath the chainmail.
“We had a very, very thick, heavy muslin underneath with a linen dress shirt with leather underneath. Then the same on our bottom half as well. The chainmail was real metal and so that it gave us that kind of weight movement to it. The tunics were made out of, and made in the same way that they would have made the fabrics back then at the time.
“The thing about the crosses, they spent a lot of time discussing what cross to use. Templars used lots of different crosses depending on where they were based, and later in the series, we meet another Templar temple and they have a different cross. Diana talked about how they would have dyed the red on the crosses and how they would have fixed them and sewn them on.
“The draper would have done it. They talked about your mum doing it for when you’re going to school. It isn’t perfect. I loved that attention to detail.
“They had a huge workshop on our last studios, Barrandov Studios in Prague. They have the most incredible costume team who worked tirelessly. I don’t think people realize, because I certainly didn’t realize, when you have 400 extras on set, the costume team, they start work at two o’clock in the morning to start dressing all of these people so they’re ready to start filming at 7am.
“Then they wash all the costumes and they go to bed at an insane hour. They do it in shifts. The work that goes into making 400 beautiful costumes is unprecedented.
“In terms of the court costume, I was always very jealous because their costumes were incredible.
“The Queen, Joan and Isabella played by Olivia Ross and Sabrina Bartlett…their costumes were drawn, were brought from real medieval images and fabrics that they’d used, and they are just unbelievable.
“Every time I saw Olivia, she was in this new, extraordinary costume that Diana has fashioned and created out of thin air in no time, and they’re just stunning, stunning, stunning works of art really.
“What is amazing is that the ways they were made is the way that they would have made them back then. Diana was really collaborative as well. I think each of us wanted to have our own unique way in which we wore our costume or we wore our belt, or the color of our cross.
“She allowed me to choose the color of my cross and how I would have dyed it. We talked about how they would have washed their costume, or how they would have washed their clothes and how dirty they would have been.
“Diana and I found this article about how they would have kept their tunics white. They would have washed it in urine and chalk and then hung it out to bleach it on the line.
“All of that kind of really detailed stuff is fascinating and we loved it. We loved sort of going there and making it as authentic as possible.”
Knightfall airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on History